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3D Print Your Favorite Chemical Structure in Four Easy Steps

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If you ever took high school chemistry class, you may remember the ball and stick models that were used to represent different chemical structures. Now, with the help of the internet, it’s easy to locate the chemical structure for any variety of chemical compounds. And if you can locate this chemical compound then you can also 3D print your own chemical model, too. Designer Greg Williams, who goes by “entomophile,” has made it very easy for you to do this by posting a four-step Instructable that can get you your own favorite chemical structure in no time.

First you have to decide what chemical you would like to 3D print. Williams has some ideas here: penicillin for a doctor, sucrose for a chef, or you can even choose ethanol for someone you know who frequently partakes in alcohol consumption. You get the idea: be creative choosing your compounds. entomophile has chosen DDT because he’s a medical entomologist and DDT is a significant chemical in public health entomology. There are plenty of chemicals to choose from! Once you’ve done that, you simply go to the PubChem website, which will generate a CID number for your chosen compound.

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In Step 2 you are going to generate an STL file from your CID number by going to the NIH’s 3D Print Exchange. This website provides people with scientifically accurate 3D printable models that are already printer compatible. You simply choose the “Create” icon on the homepage and select and submit your PubChem ID option. When your model is ready you will receive an email, and then you can download your model under your account settings. There are several different types of files you can choose from; the “PubChem-XXXX-bas.stl” file is the traditional one used, and there are options for other types of models as well there.

chem5In Step 3 you are 3D printing your model, but first you may need to run it through Meshmixer to repair any possible faults in the file. Depending on your home-based 3D printer, you may be able to print your chemical structure on that. Williams reports that he had little difficulty printing the space filling, and stick models, but his DDT ball and stick model required tons of support when he tried printing it on his Ultimaker 2. He decided to upload the model to Shapeways for a higher-quality print job. This model was printed in dyed nylon, and, as you can see from top photo, it turned out great looking.

Williams also provides the option to 3d print a stand for your chemical compound in Step 4. Using 123 Design, Williams created a simple base (see below photo) and then imported and sunk the model into the base. He then subtracted the model from the base, which left a footprint so the model can be held on the base. Easy enough, right? Now that you know how he made his DDT model, you’ll have to decide which chemical compound best represents your world and then get printing!  Discuss this story in the 3D Printed Chemical Structure forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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